Are scary movies and haunted house rides interchangeable? With four installments, the Paranormal Activity series argues “yes.” If you love paying $11 to be on an 80-minute haunted house ride, then step right up to the new Paranormal Activity movie. Those who prefer smart, tense, well-crafted and genuinely frightening horror films need not oblige.
The original Paranormal Activity made its theatrical debut in 2009, though it had been screened at film festivals since 2007. The movie attained theatrical release after impressing Dreamworks executives Adam Goodman, Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg. This arguably led to Dreamworks’ parent company, Paramount Pictures, buying the movie rights and distributing the film.
Paranormal Activity received critical praise and made $193 million in terms of total worldwide box office. Its box office success was especially remarkable given that the movie was made on a micro-budget of $15,000.
I really enjoyed the original Paranormal Activity, as it was, at the time, a breath of fresh air for horror movies in general. Yes, The Blair Witch Project did found footage-horror first, but Paranormal Activity used the format to put a unique and grounded spin on the tired, haunted house sub-genre.
The first and second sequels in the series were entertaining enough, but they could not capture the uniqueness that made their predecessor so successful.
From the fourth installment on, the series has only devolved into becoming just as stale and formulaic as any other routine horror films you see in mainstream cinemas now a days. As each installment passed by, it became all the more apparent that the people making these movies were not really interested in doing anything different than they did the last time around. This series ultimately falls into that territory of horror franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Saw. Like those franchises, the strain and desperation to milk the cash cow dry before putting the Paranormal Activity series to rest turns into cynicism and contempt from all involved in the production.
The Ghost Dimension, installment number six for those counting, is another boring and cynical exercise in which the only thing scary is that people are still going to theaters to see this wreck. I will not go into detail about the plot because, if you have seen one Paranormal Activity movie, you have seen them all.
The first 30 minutes is spent following a group of normal people beginning to see some suspicious activity in their house. There is also an obligatory comedic character who does nothing in the movie but make obnoxious jokes just because they serve as the comic relief. The next 30 minutes see our main characters deciding action needs to be taken to a havoc-wreaking incident. The final 20 minutes are just a big parade of loud noises and shaky camera as the leads try to stop the demon from causing any further trouble in the house. It all ends with a cheap cliffhanger that fails to provide any satisfying pay off and only serves to set up the next movie.
In short, the movie consists of boring set-up, lots of waiting around and then a loud noise occurring around every eight minutes or so. It is a formula that is easy to follow and cheap to produce, but has more than worn out its welcome. Even the audience I saw it with seemed to have become bored with the monotony, as everyone in the theater sat in collective quiet for most of the film, only responding at the end with audible groans to the lame conclusion.
Making matters worse this time around is that someone made the boneheaded decision to have the “paranormal activity” be shown to the audience for the first time in the series. Through doing this, the filmmakers have removed any remaining sense of slow-building tension the franchise had because we can all see when the demonic force is about to strike.
This franchise’s popularity led to the inception of the Marlon Wayans spoof, A Haunted House, but that movie does not come off as silly as this alleged horror movie does during its mercifully brief running time. With the inane storyline focusing on cultists trying to bring children to an alternate dimension through time travel (I am not kidding here), I shook my head at how the simple premise of the original Paranormal Activity had dissolved into such convoluted nonsense.
Although the filmmakers claim that The Ghost Dimension will be the final film of the series, I cannot help but feel that we have not seen the end of Paranormal Activity. After all, Hollywood has told us time and time again that certain franchises will come to an end only to see them be extended for more financial profit. Watching this stupid, empty, lifeless excuse for a movie only made me hope that, this time, Hollywood is telling us the truth and that the Paranormal Activity franchise is officially over and out.